Chairman discusses rising costs, need for development
FONDA – Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Thayer said while the county has managed to stay within the two-percent tax levy cap, it has done so by using its fund balance
“By doing that, we have kind of painted ourselves into a corner,” Thayer said. “Particularly when the tax cap was introduced and passed. Financially, the county is probably not doing as well as I’d like to see it do.”
Thayer presented the State of the County Address for Montgomery County on Friday morning, which was hosted by the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Winner’s Circle.
Thayer said, at one point, the county had about $21 million in fund balance and felt as a board it was enough to use that balance to stay within the tax cap and to stabilize or reduce taxes.
Now, he said, the county has about $3.5 million to $4 million in fund balance at this point because it has been used annually to try keep the taxes down.
“Eventually, you chew through your fund balance and then the recourse is either to reduce the services or raise taxes,” Thayer said.
He said the idea that government should be run like a business is something that is said a lot, but it just doesn’t work that way.
“There are certain principles the two share, but for the most part government really does not function like business,” Thayer said. “… It takes great restraint to keep from going to the people and saying we need to have this program so we need to raise your taxes.”
Thayer said it is difficult for the county to stay within the budget annually when things such as the state retirement system constantly require more money.
Thayer said when he came to the Board of Supervisors, the county’s contribution to the state retirement system for county employees was a little more than $800,000. Within five years, he said, that contribution has reached more than $3 million.
“That is not sustainable,” Thayer said. “We can’t do that because that cost is passed along to the property owners of Montgomery County.”
He said the county continues to see costs at its level due to the flooding from hurricanes Irene and Lee. Thayer said the county is still partaking in cleanup efforts along the Schoharie Creek through in-kind services, which includes labor and equipment.
Thayer mentioned the county has been faced with a declining population because the taxes are too high. Thayer said both California and Texas combined do not pay as much for social services as the state of New York.
“That should just blow your socks off,” Thayer said. “We can’t afford that. Do we have people that are in need? Absolutely, but we can’t afford a system like that. It is driving businesses out of New York state.”
Thayer said the county needs to concentrate on more economic development in the future.
Some of the people in Montgomery County are not employable, he said, because they can’t pass a drug test for the jobs available. To change that, he said, everyone must change their mentality through family and education.
He said the county has inventory and structures that businesses can use, but realistically many of the existing buildings are not updated enough to sustain business. Most have outdated infrastructure and not enough insulation to combat the rise in heating costs, he said.
In the coming years, the county must consider spending money on demolition to “make an environment that businesses wants to come to.”
“That can’t be accomplished by trying to get them to take buildings that are 100 years old,” Thayer added.
He encouraged business leaders in the audience to become involved and help change Montgomery County by contributing.
“That is why we need people like you,” Thayer said. “That are independent business people, who are management people in your company who need to say ‘you know, I can make a difference.’ Then make that difference by stepping forward and try to make changes.”
The congressman of the 20th Congressional District, Paul Tonko, also attended the meeting and spoke during the state of the county event.
He said he attended the meeting to be a better partner with the county in Washington and speak to the needs of the county.
Tonko said he recently was appointed to the Energy and Commerce committee, which will allow him to promote jobs and economic strength in the Montgomery County area.
“We are here to listen and learn and be a strong partner,” Tonko said.
“Montgomery County is a great place to live,” Thayer said. “We have a bright future, but we need to step up and make a difference.”